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Spotlight Report

  Adrian Walker  

My advice for O'Malley


The word is this week's installation will be low-key; appropriate both to the style of the man and to the solemnity of the circumstances.

But beginning Wednesday, a new chapter unfolds for the Archdiocese of Boston, a chapter with a new main character: Sean Patrick O'Malley, who will be its archbishop.

O'Malley, no stranger to some of his new flock, will be looked to for healing on a near-biblical magnitude.

Make no mistake, archbishop, most Bostonians hope you succeed. They hope that on general principle, and out of respect for the institution you represent. This is the most Catholic city in America, and even those of us who don't share the faith understand what its moral influence can accomplish.

Unfortunately, there is also a darker reason to hope you succeed: because we have spent more than 18 months now gazing slack-jawed at the damage a man in your position can do when he fails.

I suppose everyone knew, in some abstract way, that a failure of the church would hurt people. But no one ever contemplated failure on such a massive scale, or with such sweeping, tragic consequences.

This past week brought an eloquent reminder of how slow everyone should be -- must be -- in thinking the clergy abuse scandal is over.

It is far from over, either in the minds of the public or of the victims who continue to manage their survival day by day.

So there is plenty of work to do, and I offer some modest suggestions.

First, I hope you will open the doors. That means being open to the many people who were frozen out by Cardinal Bernard F. Law after the scandal broke. I hope the battle against Voice of the Faithful will go away, and that the many voices Law attempted to silence will be welcome once again. Law retreated into an us-versus-them mentality; you are blessedly free from that baggage.

My second thought is one you already seem poised to adopt, but I'll say it anyway. It's time to do away with the mansion. When I first suggested selling it, in April 2002, I believed that selling the mansion would be an effective, and symbolically appropriate, way to raise the money to settle the numerous lawsuits the archdiocese faces.

I still believe that. But over time, the symbolic argument has come to feel more important. The mansion stands for privilege and inaccessibility, all the wrong signals for our times. Move to the South End, the church's first home in Boston. It needs you.

Settle the lawsuits and deal with the victims. As you know, that means more than just settling financially. Besides money, many are clamoring for therapy, and emotional support. These people deeply need to hear from you, and to know that you represent change. Don't retreat, embrace.

And as long as we're on the subject of embracing, there is a whole generation of new, Catholic Bostonians looking for a toehold in the archdiocese. Befriend your Cape Verdean and Brazilian neighbors. Be part of the process of making them feel invested in the city.

Over the past 18 months, many people have observed that the effects of the scandal will be with the church, and the city, for many years to come. There's no doubt that's true. Nothing you do or anyone else does will make this go away soon.

Yet I stand by my original statement: People want you to make it. They want things to get better. So many wounds the church has suffered here were self-inflicted, the products of dishonesty, secrecy, misplaced priorities, and just plain stubbornness.

But the good news is, all of that can change. You now have a chance to prove to a skeptical but hopeful city that the church -- their church -- can and will live up to the best that is within them.

First, though, you have to get through Wednesday.

All the best.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 7/28/2003.
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